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Published on February 18th, 2019 | by Charles W. Thurston


Spokane Tribe Goes Solar With Private, Fed Funding

February 18th, 2019 by  

The Children of the Sun, as the Spokane Tribe refer to themselves, are going solar this year with installations in 28 locations generating over 600 kilowatts of energy, thanks to the support of Wells Fargo Foundation, the US Department of Energy and non-profit Grid Alternatives. The project is being managed by the Spokane Indian Housing Authority, in Wellpinit, WA.

The $2 million project will be one of the primary projects of Grid Alternatives Tribal Program, and will be funded in part through the group’s Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund, drawing on $5 million pledged by Wells Fargo Foundation last year to be used over three years, according to Tim Willink, the director of Grid Alternatives Tribal Program in Denver.

The project also will have the support of SunVest Solar, a Pewaukee, WI-based tax credit investor, and the NorthWest Office of Native American Programs within the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The DOE money typically requires a one-to-one matching funds ratio with the Native American solar projects, Willink says. Godfrey & Kahn, a national law firm, consulted with the tribe on the project.

The solar program mission statement of the tribe is “Qe huł snxwme̓neʔ hu qec qwemmste̓m łuʔ st̓ixwxwlm hu pu̓ti que lʔe,” which translates to “The Spokane Tribe adapts to change and we are still here.” The program was begun after the tribe was nearly burned out by the 2016 Cayuse Mountain Fire that cut off tribal power and destroyed 18,000 acres. The tribe has about 153,000 acres along the Spokane and Columbia Rivers.

Thanks to the solar energy, the project energy cost efficiency will save the tribal programs budget about $2.8 million over the 35 year life cycle of the photovoltaic system. “Access to funding is often the biggest barrier to achieving their goals, and we’re excited to be able to partner with even more tribes to move their solar PV projects forward,” said Adam Bad Wound, Vice President of Development for GRID Alternatives.

The social impact of the project will include a contract for the solar operations and maintenance (O&M) with Spokane Tribe’s Sovereign Power entity, and as the project goes in, there will be six to eight training opportunities for tribal members resulting in four to six hiring positions for tribal members.

More DOE funding of this sort will be available for solar projects on Native American lands this year. In December, DOE announced that its Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs would issue a Notice of Intent to issue a funding opportunity announcement (FOA), entitled “Energy Infrastructure Development on Indian Lands – 2019,” in early 2019. Over the past seven years, DOE has provided over $25 million for such projects.

Through the planned FOA, the Office of Indian Energy intends to solicit applications from Indian tribes, which, for the purposes of the FOA, include Alaska Native Regional Corporations and Village Corporations, and Tribal Energy Resource Development Organizations, to Install energy generating system and/or energy efficiency measures for tribal buildings, to deploy community-scale energy generating systems, or install energy system(s) for autonomous operation (independent of the traditional centralized electric power grid) to power a single or multiple essential tribal facilities during emergency situations or for tribal community resilience.

The Wells Fargo fund was announced in August 2018. “Our strong relationships in Indian Country and with our Native American customers are a point of great pride at our company,” said Mary Wenzel, head of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility at Wells Fargo, at the announcement.

“We are pleased to have such an effective working relationship with Grid Alternatives and to provide the seed funding for its Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund. We sincerely believe that providing no-cost solar and job-training opportunities in tribal communities will address critical needs and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy,” said Wenzel.

Wells Fargo is a leader in renewable energy development. In 2017, projects owned wholly or in part by Wells Fargo generated 7.9% of all renewable energy produced in the United States.

Grid Alternatives’ national Tribal Program has worked since 2010 to help tribes achieve their renewable energy goals with solar, while training tribal members to enter the solar workforce. Grid has installed nearly 3 MW of solar capacity in partnership with more than 40 tribes to date.

Grid Alternatives has nine regional offices and affiliates serving California, Colorado, the mid-Atlantic region, and Tribal communities nationwide, and serves communities in Nicaragua, Nepal and Mexico. 


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About the Author

Charles specializes in renewable energy, from finance to technological processes. Among key areas of focus are bifacial panels and solar tracking. He has been active in the industry for over 25 years, living and working in locations ranging from Brazil to Papua New Guinea.

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